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Scott Puts an Eye on Sports

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A Griswaldeque Adventure

The story you are about to read is about an epic journey into the land of history and sports, here and abroad. Of walking, running, sprinting, hiking, kicking, watching and racing. Epic in experiences, events and in parts. So sit back, read and relax.

Before I impart to you a journey for the ages, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the phenomenal sporting events over the last couple of weeks that have been historic in perspective and execution. Wimbledon, and Rafael Nadal beating Roger Federer in five sets for the first time on grass to claim a Wimbledon Championship for the first time. If you didn’t see the match, it will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time. It will rival any you’ve ever seen, including Borg vs McEnroe or Sampras vs Agassi. It was beautiful to watch and exciting to witness the birth of a rivalry for the ages between these two twenty-something giants in tennis.

And speaking of ages, I hope you had a chance to see more history in the making when 41-year-old Dara Torres, mother of one, set an American record in the 50 meter free style event and also qualified for five events in the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. At 41! How’d she do that?! What an inspiration. What a journey she has in store for her in the month ahead. And speaking of journeys…

It was just a mere month ago that the Johnson family (myself, wife Shelley and son Trevor) set upon a journey for the ages. Of such epic proportion in our world, that it took three years in the making and planning (and three years in the savings).

It was to celebrate our 28th anniversary, Trevor’s graduation from high school and Father’s Day all wrapped into one two-week adventure in Italy. Italy, where civilization began; Rome, Caesar, the ruins, the churches, the architecture, the food, the wine, Tuscany, the Riviera, the gondoliers… and, as it turned out, soccer. Without knowing it, we entered into the heart of the Euro Cup 2008, and all the rabid Italian soccer fans cheering on their national team.

What started out as a low stress preparation for our flight overseas became, over the course of 48 hours and throughout our two weeks, a classic Chevy Chase National Lampoon Vacation movie. If only we had the foresight to have filmed these future events for a blockbuster film.

We arrived at a hotel near the Spokane Airport in time to see the end of the Lakers taking game five from the Celtics in the NBA finals to send it back to Boston for games six and seven. I didn’t know who won until our arrival in the Philly Airport two weeks later. Congrats Celtics, I was rooting for you all the way. And that same night in Spokane it was Tiger getting ready to take on Rocco Mediate the next morning in a playoff for the US Open crown at Torrey Pines. Shoot, missed that one too. I hear Tiger was fabulous in his victory.

But anyway, early Monday morning we got on our flight to Italy with our first stop being lovely Chicago’s O’Hare Field. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m a Packer fan, but I always have this feeling that Chicago’s O’Hare is out to get me. True to form, there were weather issues in Philly, our scheduled next stop, thus delaying our getting off the ground in O’Hare. When finally touching down in Philadelphia, we did our best mile sprint through the various concourses only to miss our connecting transatlantic flight to Rome by five minutes. Five freaking minutes!!! Just lovely! [email protected]#$.

We weren’t alone however (misery loves company), as there were another dozen or so on our flight from Chicago who missed their transatlantic connections as well, prompting another sprint to the customer service desk. (Shelley’s sandals were not meant for all this sprinting, by the way.)

Five hours later we are boarding our new flight to London’s Heathrow Airport and from there have a connecting flight to Rome. This new schedule, however, has just cost us day one of our two scheduled days in Rome. [email protected]#$. Lovely.

On this huge bruiser of a plane, Shelley and I are seated in the two middle seats of a row of four with Trevor seated in the row behind us. Boarding was just about complete and the seat next to me was empty, giving me hope that Trevor could move up and the three of us would be together for this epic 8-hour flight to London. Yay, the knot in my stomach was beginning to loosen!

As I’m getting situated in my seat, taking out a magazine, I look up to see this man; at least I think he was of our species. He was 6’5” or better, walking down the aisle, sideways, and very slowly, and my guess would be that he would tip the scales at about 480 pounds. He stops at the vacant seat beside me and starts to squeeze in. Although I couldn’t see myself, I’m sure my jaw dropped about a foot.

His stomach/chest hit the seat back in front of him. His knee went over to the seat in front of me and, I expect, his left butt cheek was still in the aisle. Did I mention that his bald head was a foot above the head rest? All I could do was lean to my right onto Shelley and feel that previously loosening knot in my stomach tighten like a torque wrench on a lug nut.

What could I say? What could I do? I have to say something to him, but what? All I could think of was, “Gawd you’re huge! How’d you let yourself go like that?” Instead what came out was, “Wow, that can’t be comfortable!” He said, “Nope.” Turns out he was a really nice guy. His flight, too, had been delayed by weather and he had missed his connecting flight to Milan. I’m sure his scheduled flight had him in at least two seats, maybe three. As I’m pondering the next eight hours sitting next to Sasquatch, the stewardess comes to him and says she has new seating for him. Whew! I say “Good luck, and have a pleasant flight,” to my new friend, Bigfoot, and then breathe a huge sigh of relief. Wow, our luck is finally changing; look what’s coming down the aisle as his replacement.

Walking toward me strolls a tall, slender blonde, a Swedish foreign exchange student travelling back home to Stockholm for the summer. Did I hit the jackpot or what?! You betcha! Now, if Sven was only a girl, that would have been perfect. As it was, he was a vast improvement over Bigfoot!

Didn’t get to see much of London, only what we could see through the shuttle bus ride from one part of Heathrow to another. No time for fish and chips, had another in a series of airport sprints to the next gate to catch our connector to Rome. (By this point, Shelley has started using bandages on her newly blistering feet.)

We board British Airways… to our seats in row… two? Hmmm. That’s odd. These seats are leather and wide and have leg room. And… what are these hot, moist wash rags they’re handing us? Could it be? Yes! We’re in FIRST CLASS! WooHoo! I found myself saying, in a classic Thurston Howell the third voice, “This is the ONLY way to fly!”

We finally arrive in Rome around 5 pm. Buon giorno! Or, more accurately, since it is after 5 pm, Buona sera! Off to baggage claim we go to grab our luggage and then on our way to the Hotel Nerva located just a few blocks from the Colosseum and the Forum. Only… our bags were not there for the grabbing. It seems they didn’t make the same connection we did. We searched high and low on every carousel only to come up with… bupkis. Ahhhh. My stomach knot was firmly back in my gut.

Shelley and Trevor had to speak with the customer service people, as I had too many anger issues to be polite. Besides, I don’t speak Italian and Shelley does. They told us we should have our bags the following day, and not to worry. We’ve now been in the same clothes about 36 hours and still had to get on a train to go downtown toward our hotel. We get off the train and now it’s just short stretch of the legs to our hotel - we decide to walk. That short leg stretch turned out to be about 1.5 to 2 miles. It’s about 80 degrees and very humid and we’re now sweating in our only set of clothes and carrying our carry-ons. A lovely sight to be sure. (We are now running out of bandages for Shelley’s feet, by the way.)

Our hotel was great. Outside our third story window was ruins. Carved statues on an ancient wall… awesome. When we had dinner that night in a covered, outside café patio, there was thunder and lightning and rain. The wet cobblestones and the stone walls made everything look like a scene from an old black and white movie. There was a silver lining to our clouded travel travails after all. To top it off, while noshing on our anti-pasto, pasta and drinking wine, we were listening to the Italy vs. France soccer match on a nearby radio and hearing the shouts and screams of neighborhood fans echoing throughout the stone walls that surrounded us. Italy won two – nil.

Rome in a day! That’s all we had left, thank you Rick Steves for your book. It was our saviour and guide for two weeks except for Bologna (which he doesn’t travel to). The Forum, the Colosseum and a quick jaunt to Vatican City. We had to walk, that was the plan, and that’s the only was to see these attractions. Let’s just say Shelley’s feet were not happy campers. I had to give Shelley my socks as we ran out of bandages. Lovely!

From the Vatican we can take a taxi home. By this time I have noticed all the little cars and scooters whizzing by every which way, but it wasn’t until our first taxi ride that I got the feeling of where Formula One racing really began.

First of all, there are no lines designating lanes on the streets nor are there speed limits, or police to regulate traffic. It is truly a free-for-all. Let me just say this, Italians don’t tailgate. Tailgating, as we know in the country, is waaaay too far away. Italian drivers “draft.” Two, maybe three meters away tops from the car in front of you, is it, at any speed.

Upon our return to the hotel the desk clerk informs us our two bags arrived from the airport. YAY. However, we had three bags. Turns out it was mine that was still AWOL. Shelley and Trevor tried not to flaunt their clean clothes at me, but, what was I to do? After 48 hours in the same sweaty clothes, I was miserable. And, to top it off, my bag contained my video camera. My plan to make the ultimate home movie of our epic journey was squashed! And so was I.

Thank goodness for soccer, or should I say, “il calcio.” We went out in the evenings and watched many games throughout our journey. We saw Turkey beat Croatia, and Germany beat Turkey and saw Italy lose to Spain (the eventual Euro Cup Champion beating Germany) on penalty kicks in overtime. It was like having the Super Bowl played every three or four days. Just think of it, we were in Italy during the Euro Cup 2008.

And racing, Italians love their races; cars, scooters, motorcycles, taxis. I never in my wildest dreams would see myself riding in a Mercedes diesel station wagon taxi hurtling down the Autostrada at 150 to 180 kilometers per hour. And, drafting on the car ahead of us, of course. But there we were. And me, driving my rented 2008 Nissan Nota, a 5 sp. 1.5 diesel 4-door car, the size of a Mini Cooper, doing my best impersonation of Mario Andretti. I can now say that I drafted and was drafted upon in Europe, through the winding hairpin roads in Lazio, Abruzzo, Le Marche, Umbria and Tuscany totalling over 1,000 kilometers. I had a blast and discovered that my eye/hand coordination was still at a razor’s edge to keep me in the flow with these seasoned Italian drivers.

But, along with all the incredible sights and adventures in our two weeks in Italy we still continued on with our “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” theme. Train cancellations, breakdowns and extended waiting in terminals. Boat rides in Venice that were more like cattle jammed onto a ferry boat going to market, and further plane delays once we retuned to the states. Coincidently it was O’Hare again where we missed a connection and were forced to spend the night in Chicago. Super lovely! They make it rough on us Packer fans.

To add insult to injury, upon our arrival in Spokane (after being diverted through Denver) our car had a dead battery in the Spokane hotel parking lot.

And, as of this writing, my luggage is still missing and I’m still trying to get used to wearing that Italian thong underwear.

Until next time, Arrivederci!

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Author info

Scott Johnson Scott Johnson I was born a poor German child in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a cold April eve in 1958, on the heels of the greatest event in the history of the state: the hiring of Vincent T. Lombardi to the Green Bay Packers. Hence began my love affair with the game of football and my team in green and gold. Due to my father’s (100%) disability with MS, we moved to sunny San Diego, CA in the summer of 1968 to escape the bitter cold of those Wisconsin winters and its negative effect on my Dad's disease. While in San Diego I found not only my love for beautiful beaches and beautiful girls, but also for the stage. From junior high through college at San Diego State University, I was performing and directing in three to five theatrical productions per year. Between theatre and football I managed to squeeze in distance running as an avocation, competing in numerous 10k races, half marathons and finally the San Diego Marathon. Realizing that the chances of becoming a fabulously rich and famous actor were few and far between, I decided on an advertising career in the newspaper business as my vocation. I began at a weekly publication, then a daily, then the #1 monthly senior publication in the country, Senior World Newsmagazine, where I became their Regional Sales Manager. Looking for a “quality of life” change for our family, my wife I found Sandpoint, Idaho in 1993 and moved here with our son in 1994. I worked for the Daily Bee and then in the car business before finding my niche as Director of Sales and Advertising for Keokee Creative Group in 2001, where I remain today. In the Fall of 2006, Trish found my knowledge of sport, my gift of gab and my theatrical spin on life in the sporting world a match for the River Journal, and I’ve been writing my sports column ever since. Still waiting for that call from Sports Illustrated, though. Of course now that Ric Reilly has retired, maybe there’s a chance…

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